You Can Smile Now

 

I've been thinking about joy recently: Finding true happiness in God, no matter the circumstances. I write as an eager novice in the area of joy, not a seasoned expert.

My wife and I recently watched an episode of Jeopardy! featuring kids. Check out this clip, especially the last 30 seconds.

I can tell you what I would be doing if I won Jeopardy!: jumping up and down, hands in the air, smiling and laughing! As I watched the young winner's composure and lack of visible elation, and heard Alex Trebek say, "You can smile now," it reminded me a bit of what we can be as the church. We know inside that we have the most amazing news possible in Jesus Christ, despite our circumstances, and yet we tend to refrain from showing elation in God. Maybe it seems more mature to hold back displays of joy. Maybe we don't always tap into the reality of the joy in God that is constantly ours through renewed mind and heart in the gospel.


I recently read a quote from Martin Lloyd Jones, a famous British preacher from the 20th century, who said this about the Church's display of joy:

 

 . . . the greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church. . . . Nothing is more important . . . than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who 'scorns delights and lives laborious days' . . . Christian people too often seem to be perpetually in the doldrums and too often give this appearance of unhappiness and lack of freedom and of absence of joy. There is no question at all but that this is the main reason why large numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity. (When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper, page 80)

 

He is basically saying that our lack of joyful display to the world is the primary reason why non-Christians have lost interest in Christianity.  

I don't know about you, but it is very easy for me to be devoid of any joy despite feeling very joyful, content and peaceful in God moments earlier. It is sobering for me just how quickly my eyes move off of Christ, and onto merely horizontal things. Just the slightest change in circumstances throws me off.

I liked this commentary note from Matthew Henry, a 17th century Bible commentator, which expands on two famous passages on joy in God (Philippians 4:4, Psalm 37:4):

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (v. 4). All our joy must terminate in God; and our thoughts of God must be delightful thoughts. "Delight Thyself in the Lord" (Ps. 37:4). . . . Observe, it is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for him, or are afflicted by him. We must not think the worse of him or of his ways for the hardships we meet with in his service.  There is enough in God to furnish us with matter of joy in the worst of circumstance on earth. . . . Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it.

 

For me I need continual reminding of Hebrews 12:1-2:

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Cliff notes: For sustaining joy, I keep my eyes on Jesus, who kept His eyes on the Father to sustain His present and future joy.

I'm encouraged by the way this concept of joy in God is captured in the lyrics of a song called "Beautiful One," by Steele Croswhite, a pastor, songwriter and musician from our sister church in Salt Lake City, Utah:

 

You’re the author of all that is good in life, the reason for all my joy

You’re the maker of music, the victor of death, the reason for all my joy

You’re the hope of all men, the marvel of angels, the reason for all my joy

Yes, You are . . .

 

You can listen to the entire song here.

Next time you check your spiritual pulse, and don't feel joy pumping from your heart, remember to set your eyes on God, the reason for all our joy in all circumstances.

And don't forget, Christian, you can smile now.

Cease and Desist: Thoughts on Sabbath, Trust and Work

 

According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

Why is it that my first response when asked how it's going, I am always tempted to say, “Busy”?

According to the National Sleep Foundation in 2009, Americans’ average hours of sleep per night has decreased steadily to about 6.7 hours a night on a weeknight. Let the debate rage over what is a "healthy" amount.

Caught up in all of this cultural hard working and no sleeping is the issue of trust. Yes, trust. What you trust changes your hours of work, your sleep, your stress levels in the midst of good and bad economies. Those who work too little and those who work too much can both suffer from trust issues: The former trusting in others to do their work for them, and the latter in themselves. Trust changes the demeanor of your work and rest, as well. Calling it quits and not fretting on your way home is a useful tonic for our well-being.

Standing out in the Old Testament regarding God’s issue with Israel is their treatment of the Sabbath:

 

Keep justice, and do righteousness,

for soon my salvation will come,

    and my righteousness be revealed.

Blessed is the man who does this,

    and the son of man who holds it fast,

who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.

(Isaiah 56:1-2)

 

 

Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction. (Jeremiah 17:21-23)

 

In these and other passages, God equates breaking the Sabbath rest once a week as "evil" and "stiffening their neck." Those are usually words we equate with those "other" sins that people commit.

A New Testament believer will be quick to share about Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath, and that the Pharisees were condemned for their overprotective stance toward the Sabbath, not even allowing people to be helped on the Sabbath. Paul himself spent many Sabbaths "reasoning" and "trying to persuade" Jews in their faith, with the assumption that he was "working" as a minister. And they are correct.

I would answer by saying that in America, in 2012, this culture is not one where people are ridiculed and chastised for breaking the Sabbath, as the Pharisees were guilty of in Israel in Jesus’ day. Rather, people are thought of as lazy and not "engaged" when they do keep some sort of rest schedule. I am not saying that the ritualistic and moral task of taking one day off where you do absolutely no work, no gathering of food, or even helping a pet that’s lost is where we should go. I’m simply hoping the question could be asked, “In all of our sleepless nights, our busy weeks, what are we trusting? Do we trust that God will fill our bank accounts for what we need if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness?”

Woven into our American fabric is independence, not wanting to admit that we need help, not admitting we are weak and frail humans. We long to be the sufficient one, who can get two hours of sleep, work 60 hours a week, and still hold life together. Continual lifestyles like this show we don’t trust that in our resting we are honoring the One who causes any work get done eternally. To trust in God in our resting is humbling for our American souls. Will our economy get better if we work harder? We want to say yes, but the reality is that the right answer is “Maybe," based on what God wills. At some point we have to admit that we’re actually human, and not sovereign in the ordering and efficiency of our lives. In both our resting and working, Jesus is Lord. As Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

The sad part is that our "resting" is often not restful. Weekends can be even more stress-filled than our weekdays. Perhaps reading my Bible or other books for a few hours, going on a prayer walk around town, catching a nap, or having friends over to chat would leave us more encouraged and willing to work hard than watching that next flick that comes out. Another way to put it is to ask, “What can I do in my resting that shows Jesus that I’m trusting him? What will refresh not only my body, but my heart and soul?”

I just want to finish with some verses about trust, and realize this topic is multi-faceted and dynamic, and there are certainly times where “You need to work harder” is the correct instruction. Providing for one’s family is a Biblical mandate, and there are times that means working long, hard hours. These issues have to be teased out of our hearts in discussion with other believers, following the Word and the Spirit. For most of us, though, we have a hard time ceasing and desisting from our striving and working. 

 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)

 

Unless the Lord builds the house,

    those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

    the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

    and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

(Psalm 127:1-2)

On Esquire Magazine’s Laws of Manliness, and Other Works-Based Religions

 

I follow Esquire magazine on Twitter. Please withhold judgment for at least a few more paragraphs.

To be clear, I don’t follow Esquire because I agree with Charles Pierce’s views on politics and religion, or for the fashion tips on clothes I could never afford.

This may sound esoteric, but I follow Esquire mostly because I enjoy studying the manifestations of law/grace “gospels” in our culture. Let me try to explain:

In our advertising age, everyone is selling something. That’s not a novel observation. But rarely do we look at how a company, or a politician, or a musician, or a news outlet sells their product. There’s a difference in scolding a beer company for the scantily clad women in a TV spot and understanding that said beer company isn’t selling mass-produced ales. It’s selling salvation, and it just happens to be wearing a low-cut blouse. In this gospel, salvation does not come by faith; it comes by works – buying a certain brand of beer. These ads tell us that if we want the lifestyle and the woman depicted, we have to do something to earn it.

And when the bottle is empty, you have to go back to the store, again and again and again, to earn the favor of the scantily clad women and to gain acceptance into that lifestyle. You are never done working for your salvation, because the 12-pack eventually runs dry.

There’s no “once and for all” promise of eternal security in the gospel of Bud.

Now, onto Esquire and its Twitter feed.

The men’s magazine basically sets itself up as the affluent secularist’s Bible for “masculine” living. All the ways of proper manliness are contained herein. If you’re a real man, you read Esquire, or at least follow the magazine on Twitter.

And if you read/follow Esquire, you have a lot of rules to obey. (They’ve even published a book of these rules, dubbed “men’s manual to life.”) But, hooray for the Internet! Because you don’t have to buy such a pretentious take on the Old Testament to be under the (manly) law; the rules come straight to your Twitter feed. And sweet, fancy Moses are there a lot of rules.

There are rules regarding grammar and speech. There are rules for emailing. There are rules on public restroom decorum. There are rules on interpersonal interaction. There are rules to help you determine the successfulness of your life.

To be fair, there are also good rules. There are funny rules. There are tongue-in-cheek rules.

Still the point remains: there are rules. In the gospel according to Esquire, your manliness is defined by how closely you follow the rules. As an example of the pervasiveness of this justification-by-works manliness, they even have rules for how to properly use vending machines and “what not to say” at a steakhouse. Esquire’s legalism is so rigid that even the “manliest” of men, James Bond (Daniel Craig), gets scolded when his tie isn’t tied just right.

Now, I don’t think that the staff and writers at Esquire believe in or follow all of these rules. To some extent, it’s hyperbole and satire. But rules are very appealing to men, especially in a culture where any foundational celebration of masculinity is on the decline. When so many men find themselves in the no-man’s land of emerging adulthood, purgatoried by video games and pornography, the idea of following rules that promise “real” masculinity can be very alluring. Esquire, and other cultural entities like it, offers a law-based way to become a man. It hits directly at the competitive spirit of men; it challenges them; it gives them a standard to live up to.

That’s why it’s so dangerous. It’s also exhausting and unfulfilling.

The manliest man in the Bible, Jesus, didn’t think much of “rules.” In his mind, the route to mature manhood begins with loving the Lord your God with everything you’ve got: mind, heart and strength. From there, seek to love your neighbors as yourself, and if you’re married, love your wife to the point of death. That’s about it. The Apostle Paul blows up the notion that following a bunch of rules delivers the desires of our hearts. Because the things men hope to achieve by following Esquire-esque rules – confidence, identity, security, pleasure, purpose – aren’t necessarily bad to desire. It has more to do with where men hope to fulfill those longings.

It’s only when men realize the grace offered them by Jesus that they can truly be men. A religion of rules leads to ruin; a religion of grace and faith in the Son of Man leads to life, to as-it-ought-be manliness. Men unshackled from rules and performance-based reviews can live in the freedom of God’s grace, at last able to be the life-giving force they long to be – not out of compulsion, but because they’ve experienced real acceptance and love that had nothing to do with what kind of steak they ordered.

Yet it’s not just Esquire-leaning men who struggle with following a law-based prescription to realizing the desires and idols of the heart. What “laws” do you follow? What do you hope to find by following those laws? How do the promises and grace of Jesus fulfill the hope you pursue through rules and law?

Be Small: A Guide for Self-Insufficient Living

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children." (Matthew 11:25)

 

 

“That’s it? What does it mean?”

“Small and well cared-for.” 

It was tradition. Every year at the end of our day in Duluth, each Majeski searches the shores of Lake Superior to find a rock that expresses their heart on that day. This year I picked a tiny one that was buffeted by hundreds of years of waves, ice and neighbors to be remarkably smooth and round. It was an accurate expression of my soul after some days “off the grid” bow hunting and sightseeing in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

Small and well cared-for

It took a while to get there. The first week we were gone, it was hard to slow down and settle in. I felt a pressure to make the most of the time and hold on to the transcendent moments. I guess I just wanted to fill up a jar with vacation manna and take it home. That pressure and the looming sense that one day our vacation would end left me anxious and, frankly, unpleasant. 

Thankfully, God goes to football games. Yeah, homecoming games in small towns. Halfway through our vacation, the Majeski family attended the homecoming football game of the Pirates of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Most of the town of roughly 1,300 people were there – along with the Holy Spirit.  

The atmosphere of the game stood in stark contrast to our life in Fort Collins. Certainly, these salt-of-the-earth folks had their problems, but they weren’t clamoring for perfection. And I felt God’s Spirit bringing to mind all that I had recently been reading in Matthew’s Gospel. God was not less pleased with these people because they live peaceful lives in a remote town. God didn’t disdain their lack of prominence. In fact, if anything, it is cause for His special attention. And God’s favor would not be secured by making a  “big” splash.

But I was living that way.

Being exposed is painful, yet it’s also a way God shows us His grace. In one sentence, my life stood in the spotlight of God’s revelation. I had assumed the role of the all-self-sufficient one and was wound so tight in my own efforts that here, in my favorite place in the world, I couldn’t unwind. God, my careful Father, was graciously helping me see. Kermit the Frog’s famous phrase came to mind: “It’s not easy being green.” Yes, Kermit, and it’s not easy being big, either. By design, it’s impossible.

 


There is only one self-sufficient One. And, because of this, He came to serve not to be served (Mark 10:45). The basis of my significance (which is, simply, His pleasure in me) is not my achievements or prominence but the righteous life and atoning death of His Son (2 Cor. 5:21). It has always been so and will always be. 

The first order of business for every child of God every day is to be a “little” child. Accept your needs. Be small. Be thankful for today’s manna and trust it will be there tomorrow. Gratefully receive your place as one small and well cared-for. It is an essential precursor to the joy of the Lord, which is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

 

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

 

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)

Free to Love Once and For All

If you haven’t heard the song “Farther Along” by Josh Garrels, you definitely should.
 


It’s catchy, filled with a lot of truth and imagery and is worth listening to a couple times over, in my opinion. If you still have time to read my post after that, this one happens also to relate to a line in the song:
 
“Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall and I’m free to love once and for all.”

This line alludes to the joy of our salvation in knowing God. I have been chewing on what it is to be “free to love”. Freeing would not be the word I would typically use to describe my love for others; stingy is a much more accurate description. Don’t get me wrong. I am great at loving people, just so long as they love me back in the exact way I would want them to. But if they seem to snub me a little or say something that I perceive as being a little condescending, I get very defensive or pouty and I think twice before investing much more in that relationship. I make them earn my love back, because after all, love is a costly thing and I can’t just go spending it on any ordinary person.

When I think like this, I have completely forgotten the gospel.
 
The truth is that there is a God who should never have loved me, whom I had sneered at and mocked and deliberately disobeyed and in my pride, which He hated, I had told Him I didn’t really need Him. What was His response? This God chose to love me and it was not with a selfish love. It was not a love that changed depending on how well I responded to it. If that were the case, He never would have loved me because I had responded pitifully. No, God loved me even when I was dead in my trespasses. When I had nothing but filth to offer Him, that’s when He chose to step down and display the ultimate act of love by choosing to bear my filth to its wrath-filled destruction. This was not a half-hearted, “I’m going to love you this once and then you better get your act together” kind of love. God lavished His love on me. Knowingly, willingly, to His pleasure, God chose to love me, even knowing how often I would take complete advantage of His love. There is nothing like Him.
 
If this is really true, I am no longer constrained to respond to others in accordance to how they respond to me. I have the God of the entire universe, the Maker of all that is good, the Holder of time, the Breather of Life, filling me with His infinite love. What a freedom to love others! If they hate me, I remember a God I used to hate and how He didn’t hold back an ounce of His limitless love in response to me. 

When I am looking at myself and responding out of fear to what others think of me, I am very unable to truly love. How can I? I am a slave to their opinions of me and will only “love” if they have made me secure enough in myself to do so. When I look to God and His extravagant grace toward me when I was so undeserving, I am in the right place to love others regardless of how they may react. God has made me secure forever in His love for me. Freely I have received; freely I can give in accordance with the abundance with which God has blessed me.

Please configure it before using this module.

Search the Archives